The Christmas season doesn’t start when The Bay puts up wreaths and ornaments for sale in mid-October or when Starbucks introduces the red cup. Nope. Paradoxically, on the big screen, Christmas begins in November with American Thanksgiving. This year along with the turkey and the yam-topped sweet potatoes comes sage Christmas advice from Grandpa Bucky (Alan Arkin): “Everyone thinks you can schedule happiness, but you can’t.” Listen and learn. It’s Christmastime at the movies so cue the yuletide family dysfunction.
Four generations of Coopers are headed to Mon (Diane Keaton) and Dad’s (John Goodman) place for Christmas dinner. What the kids and grandchildren and assorted others don’t know is that the rents are splitting after 40 years of marriage but want to give the kids “one last perfect Christmas” before announcing the divorce.
Among the guests descending for holiday vittles are an unemployed sad sack son (Ed Helms) and his children. Olivia Wilde as Eleanor, the philosophically inclined but reckless daughter accompanied by Bailey (Jake Lacy), an Iraq-bound soldier she meets at the airport and convinces to be her dinner date and a kleptomaniac sister (Marisa Tomei) who apparently can look to people souls. There’s more, like the excellently named Aunt Fishy (June Squibb) and Ruby (Amanda Seyfried), an angelic waitress at Bucky’s favourite diner, but there’s so many characters the movie starts to lose track of them and so does the audience. “Love the Coopers” is so jam pacekd with people it takes 20 minutes of narration to introduce them all. Imagine a Christmas tale written by Leo Tolstoy, with a dozen or more characters weaving in and out of the narrative—plus a dog flatulence joke!—and you get the idea.
Sting songs decorate the soundtrack as life times of regret and resentment boil over. Before you can say, “Pass the stuffing,” a litany of hardships—unemployment, divorce, empty nest syndrome, longing and underwear soiling to name a few—have been touched on and while there are moments of actual raw emotion they’re buttressed by enough schmaltz to fill eight CDs worth of Celine Dion Christmas ballads. For instance Eleanor’s meet cute with Bailey is the stuff of a solid rom com. Her out-of-control run through a hospital—knocking over patients and grieving visitors—is not.
There are too many stories happening at once—but don’t worry there’s “helpful” narration to explain the details—for you to become invested in the characters. Characters come and go and by the time they’re all in the same place story threads are left hanging like twisted tinsel on a wilted Christmas tree. Director Jessie “I Am Sam” Nelson tidies everything up in the final moments, putting a pretty bow on the package, while throwing story credibility out the window.
Much of “Love the Coopers” is as appealing as last year’s fruitcake, but in the odd moment where it leaves the emotional manipulation in the background and focuses on the story’s sense of melancholy and messages about the power of family, it casts a warm glow.